Pot. Grass. Ganja. Mary Jane. Tea. Weed, wacky weed, loco weed, laughing weed. Sinsemilla. Cannabis. Joints, blunts, bongs. Smoked, or baked into brownies, a delivery system for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Celebrated in pop culture by Cheech and Chong (or Cheech y Chong). And, in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, by Jeff Bridges as The Dude. Rappers have celebrated it: Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, and maybe fifty others. Louis Armstrong, Bob Marley, and a list of jazz and rock legends too long to list smoked it, wrote about it, defended it.
And now, in two states, it’s legal. And in California, and fifteen other states, it’s legal for medicinal uses.
Which it has, maybe. It may reduce the nausea associated with chemotherapy and AIDS treatments. Could be an effective treatment for glaucoma, with possible beneficial benefits for MS. Work, possibly, as an analgesic. Seems to reduce obesity, even, late night snacking binges aside.
And–prediction time!– betcha anything it’s going to be a hot button political issue in the next election. I remember attending a political forum at Sunstone one year, and Utah Democratic bigwigs in attendance all mentioned how we need to come up with some sure-fire wedge issues. Love them wedge issues. The one they favored was stem cell research. Which is to say that liberals don’t do wedge issues very well. Conservative political operatives are frankly better at it, and with gay marriage and immigration sliding off their radar, they’re gonna need a new one. The legalization of marijuana seems tailor-made.
‘Cause right now, we’re in a weird place, legally. Some states have legalized marijuana for medical use, with the frankly predictable attendant abuses and enforcement inconsistencies. And Colorado and Washington have legalized it. Which means what, since it’s still illegal federally? I mean, on the news this morning, we could see folks getting baked under the Space Needle in Seattle–the new law went into effect this morning. People can legally smoke small amounts of weed, preferably in the privacy of their homes. Eventually, the state of Washington has a year to come up with a system of state-licensed growers, processors and (this blows my mind) retail stores. They’re planning to tax marijuana at 25% at each step. Could be lucrative–be nice to have that money for education. Yay! Smoke a blunt for teachers!
So; hypothetically, the governor of Washington, Chris Gregoire, now has to hold meetings discussing how to do all that. In those meetings–which state law requires that she hold– isn’t she also engaging in a conspiracy to violate federal law?
I have a hard time seeing Obama’s Justice Department hauling Chris Gregoire out of her office in handcuffs. But it’s not good to have laws on the books no one intends to enforce. This would all suggest the need for a change in federal law. I know! Congress could act; pass a bill, clarify matters. Excuse me: I just threw up a little in my mouth.
‘Cause there’s just no way. This Congress? The most dysfunctional of my lifetime? I suppose it’s barely possible that President Obama could ram something through the Senate, supposing changes are made in Senate filibuster rules. And just maybe the Democrats in the House could muster enough support from hard core libertarians to sneak something past the Republicans. Maybe. Assuming all House Democrats also favored it, which is by no means certain. But it would take a huge effort, expending who knows how much political capital, and over something President Obama has shown no signs of caring much about. I mean, I know NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) is an effective lobbying group, but for most folks, this isn’t a high priority. I think a NORML bill may find itself orphaned.
The irony, of course, is that this is a federalism problem. How autonomous are the states? Can Washington and Colorado pass a bill that directly opposes federal law? The hard-core Tenth Amendment guys, the real states’ rights advocates, they all tend to be conservatives. And I’m assuming that most conservatives oppose the legalization of marijuana, just as I assume that most libertarians support it. So it gets deliciously twisty–if conservatives really do think the states should be able to assume independence a la the 10th, they should support legalizing ganja? Not sure we’re going to see that kind of ideological consistency.
Should marijuana be legalized? I think so, yeah. Washington’s approach makes sense to me. Legalize it, regulate it, tax it. Treat it like alcohol, including penalities for driving while impaired. Empty our prisons of pot-convicted non-violent offenders. I know the arguments against legalization too, but I’m not sure how many would have merit if it were legalized. It’s thought to be a gateway drug, for example, but maybe that’s in part because it’s illegal. Maybe part of its allure is tied to its illegality. Many of my high school friends smoked pot, and I think it was more about the outlaw thrill of it than much else.
But the politicization of it is also part of the problem. For example, it’s legal in sixteen states as used for medicinal purposes. But the FDA has never approved it, citing a lack of peer reviewed research. It’s difficult to conduct such research, obviously, on a drug that’s illegal. And the research that’s been done has been done with folks with a dog in the fight; pro-pot advocates. And legalizing it for medical uses has a definite camel’s-nose-under-the-tent-flap feel to it, a way to sneak one past the authorities. ‘Yeah, Cheech, you need it for your glaucoma’. Nice try. It’s easy to claim that you a substance to ‘relieve pain’ when it’s something you think is fun. ‘Doc, I need that huge bowl of chocolate brownie ice cream; my knees always feel better afterwards.’
On the other hand. . . .
I have a medical condition which seems tailor-made for marijuana therapy. Analgesic; I could use a better one, my knees are killing me today. I do chemo once a week (small doses); I’d love not to feel yucky afterwards. So if it was legal, regulated, approved for my conditions. . . .
I’ll probably never have to make that decision. Meanwhile, it’s an entertaining political spectacle, at the very least.